Shannon floods may become influential election issue

Affected voters may punish Coalition candidates over the devastation caused

Independent candidate Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran: “I’m sick of watching people suffer since 2009 and everything we’ve been promised is a failure.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Politicians prefer to canvass with the sun on their backs, but that appears unlikely in 2016 when an early spring election will follow the floods that have devastated the country.

It might sound incredibly colloquial, but the impact of weather on Irish politics should not be underestimated, as election dates are often chosen with possible meteorological conditions in mind.

Extreme climate events cannot be anticipated, of course, but if voters in flood-stricken areas get angry enough in the aftermath of the deluges, could they be persuaded to punish Government TDs for an apparent lack of preparedness for more predictable occurrences?

Former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke: says Enda Kenny must be regretting not holding the election in November. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Coalition deputies located close to the route of the river Shannon insist that the electorate will accept that recent rising water levels were an “act of God” and predict voters will not seek vengeance.


Veteran Labour politician Willie Penrose, on the Westmeath end of the Longford-Westmeath constituency, is one.

“This is Mother Nature. The Shannon is always going to be there. You can’t move the Shannon, but you can accelerate bringing forward funding for barriers and compensation packages without delay and bureaucracy,” he said.

“The election doesn’t change the matter of what the problem is. Elections come and go and this is still going to be there. People aren’t going to be fobbed off by tomfoolery that someone is suddenly going to solve the problem.”

‘Broken promises’

However, Athlone councillor Kevin “Boxer” Moran, who will contest the election as a candidate connected to the Shane Ross-led Independent Alliance, said the overflowing Shannon would be an election issue.

“I can assure you I’ll make it one because I’m sick of watching people suffer since 2009 and everything we’ve been promised is a failure,” he said.

“It has to become an election issue because it’s not just about Athlone. People are very angry and frustrated. In 2009 we were told this would happen once in every 100 years. It’s all because of broken promises.”

Former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke from Athlone, who represented Westmeath in the Dáil for decades, said the speed with which compensation for homeowners and businesses could be delivered, along with more permanent flood defence strategies, would be key to voter reaction.

She said Taoiseach Enda Kenny must now be regretting not holding the election in November.

“I’m sure he’s wringing his hands. Sure he would’ve been home and dry before the floods,” O’Rourke said.

Community spirit

Government TDs were keen to emphasise the camaraderie and community spirit that characterised the immediate response of residents to flooding.

But Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, who represents Limerick City and lives in Corbally, acknowledged the anger of those in her area who say flooding was avoidable.

“There are answers needed as to why the situation was allowed to develop and I’ll be pursuing the authorities in that regard,” she said.

“I think it is an issue that will be raised during the election, though I’m not sure it will be a very contentious issue.

“This Government is funding very significant improvements in flood defences for Limerick and I trust that this important plan will be delivered regardless of any election outcome.”

Minister of State for the OPW, Simon Harris, who visited various sites to see damage caused by Storm Desmond at first hand, also played down the potential of flooding becoming an election flashpoint.

“I hope that this is an area where people don’t play party politics. I certainly don’t think it should be a party political issue.”

Mr Harris said the national Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) programme began in 2009, under the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government and was being progressed by the current administration.

But some observers, such as the Longford-born political commentator Johnny Fallon, are less convinced the electorate will remain neutral on the weather issue.

“It’s terrible timing for the Government for it to happen. Rural Ireland has been feeling a bit abandoned. Not that people would blame the Government for flooding, but it’s a reminder of that feeling of abandonment.”